One year as Vision Super CIO: Wyrsch

Michael Wyrsch

30-Jul-2015

By Wouter Klijn

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Just over a year ago, former Frontier Advisors senior consultant Michael Wyrsch made the decision to sit on the other side of the table and join the $7.2 billion Vision Super as its first chief investment officer.

As he approached 50, Wyrsch decided it was time move on from his 16-year career working as a consultant and he spotted an opportunity to bring about real change at the industry superannuation fund.

“Vision Super was in a state of flux and that was what really attracted me,” he says in an interview with theinstoreport.

“They had been through a couple of merger attempts, which hadn’t gone through. They had made some changes to the board and there was a new chief executive, so things were changing.”

Although he did not consult to the fund while at Frontier, he did know Vision Super’s new chief executive, Stephen Rowe, from the 2008 merger of First Super with the Timber Industry Superannuation Scheme, a transaction in which Frontier was involved.

Rowe’s integrity and professionalism made an impression on Wyrsch, especially given the fact Rowe knew he would be out of a job after the merger process.

“When you see people in those situations, you really get to know what they are like,” he says.

The past year has been busy, with Wyrsch defining the fund’s investment beliefs, establishing an investment framework that deals with the future requirements of both the accumulation and defined benefit portfolios, and starting to rationalise the myriad managers in the portfolios.

“I had to take a look at how the whole process was run,” he says.

“At that stage, the board made every decision, so we had discussions about a set of investment beliefs because they didn’t really have a [defined] set of investment beliefs.

“A lot of it in the last year has been to set up that process so that there were appropriate delegations in the fund and independent oversight.

“We’ve set up a dynamic asset allocation framework, instituting asset allocation decisions, put those allocations in place and reconfigured the portfolio.”

Vision Super had a large number of investment managers, which restricted their ability to make meaningful contributions to the performance of the portfolios, he says.

“There has been quite a bit of manager rationalisation,” he says.

“It has been simplified and every manager has to show they add to the performance of the fund.”

Wyrsch is still going through the rationalisation process, which has already led to the termination of six investment managers, while two new managers have been added in an effort to implement the new framework.

“We still have a way to go and we are probably only a third of the way through it. We still have a lot of holdings in the unlisted space,” he says.

Part of Wyrsch’s brief was to look at the viability of bringing part of the asset management in-house, but he says this is a project for the longer term.

“We are still making sure that the basics are rock solid,” he says.

“We’ve gone through all the policies to ensure they are appropriate and user-friendly.

“That has been a main focus and we’ve hired a head of investment operations, Emma Robertson, and she has done a terrific job.

“That is probably the best thing I’ve done: hiring her,” he chuckles.

Robertson joined Vision Super in March from Deloitte Actuaries & Consultants, where she was an associate director.

Wyrsch is also looking to fill a number of positions in his investment team, after Vision Super senior investment analyst Bryon David left to join CareSuper, while investment manager Graeme Smith, who has been with the fund since 1987, is nearing retirement.

“We will restructure with those two departures, but it is also a cultural issue to make sure that we’ve got sufficient internal diversity of opinion, criticism, devil’s advocates, that sort of thing,” he says.

“At the moment, it is going to be a couple more on the investment side and another person on the operational side and then we will see how that goes.”

He is also adamant the fund should have a good succession plan in place.

“I want someone here who is really a good candidate to be CIO within [the next five years],” he says.

“I think you have to start planning [succession] from day one; that is part of your role as senior management.

“It doesn’t mean that that person will be the next CIO, but you should have someone there that could do that role.”

Operating on the other side of the table has been rewarding, he says, and he has enjoyed the greater accountability the role brings with it.

“When you are in a fund, you only focus on the one fund. I like that accountability and I want to make it real accountability, so we’ve set up a process where there is independent review of what we are doing,” he says.

“We should all be accountable.”

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